South Glos writers: you are not alone!

creative processIf anyone really wants to know how it feels to be a writer (be careful what you wish for!) I think this  just about sums it up, except that it’s not  a straight line  of course but a cycle (or hamster wheel?) i.e. you get on at a different point each day and it’s a good day if you finish at no 5. Finishing at 6 is very enjoyable, of course, but can be quickly followed by a tumble to no 4!

So progress on the novel is much as it has always been i.e.  up and down, and if anyone would like more of un update on my adventiures in historical fiction I have just blogged about it on Author’s Electric

writers testing the waters in Dorset
Writers testing the waters in Dorset

Of course the good thing about being in a writing group of any kind (including an MA course) is that you know you are not alone. There are others to hold hands with as you slip and slide on the treacherous slope of writing and self-worth.  I was really delighted that a handful of the writers who came to our Discover workshops in October are thinking of banding together for a bit of editorial critique and writerly support.

If you are in the South Gloucestershire area and can get to Bradley Stoke library on the occasional Tuesday evening (January onwards) please contact me here or get in touch with the library who can give you more details.

Remember, writing can be hard, but it doesn’t have to be lonely, not all the time anyway!

Enjoying the moment in Stroud

Stroud Short Stories

The audience awaits!

Stroud Short Stories was a great evening for  readers and listeners – and I was lucky enough to be both. It’s a lovely venue with a fantastic atmosphere and I   can recommend the next event (April 2015) to anyone in striking distance of Stroud with an interest in short stories as a writer or a reader.But for me it represented something more. Okay, the audience was big (a sell-out!) and none of them had had an arm twisted by me – or as far as I know anyone else – to turn out on a winter’s evening. In fact they had paid a modest sum to be there. But something else changed too.

It has taken me a while to get used to being in front of an audience as a writer.  Despite having a stories and a novel published,  I wasn’t quite ready to inhabit my status in public.  Was I worth  listening to, was my work really worth coming out for? I suspect on some of my early outings my discomfort was clear. I read too quickly or too quietly and often edited bits out as I went along in my eagerness to get to the end! At Stroud I had worried my story would be dull compared to the others but as I got going I realised it wasn’t dull, it was just different. I also remenbered it actually sounded goodand out here in front of a microphone it did sound good or – at least better than in front of the bathroom mirror! It was time to enjoy the moment.

A final confession. Years and years ago, when I first started writing,  one daydream I allowed myself was to be standing in front of an audience (not the Albert Hall, just some cosy pub or arty cafe) who would listen with rapt attention to the outpouring of my genius. Since my genius at the time was more in my head than on any piece of paper, it didn’t happen, and it got crowded out by other dreams and ambitions ( some more realasitic than others). But during my rendition of Preparing for Winter, it tapped on my shoulder and reminded me that this dream, however small on the cosmic literary scale, actually had come true. So a final thanks to all those who indulged me and gave a good imitation of being totally rapt while I was up there living my little dream.

Well that’s enough self-indulgence or one day. The powers that be have decreed that those who read in October will not be considered for the next Stroud Short Stories event. A very wise decision. If I could rustle up something else worthy of a spot, the fame would most certainly go to my head. But if you get picked I could well be there to watch.

This is me reading on the night and also Alice Jolly, a writer I’d already been in youch with on  Authors Electric. I’m looking forward to being in touch with her and more of the Stroud crowd.

reading at stroudAlice Jolly



It’s all happening – another events round-up!

You may have guessed that what with the start of my MA course and my monthly blog for Authors Electric, I’m less likely to be mulling things over here, but this is a reminder of some upcoming events and one great piece of news.

At the risk of repeating myself, this Saturday is ‘Books Are My Bag’ day,  so do join us at Foyles in Bristol if you can manage. Details below.

BAMB flyerFor those who can’t make it there’s a Facebook event which I’ll try (no promises!) to update during the day,  or look out for Twitter hashtag #bamb_bristol.
Now some real news!   I’m thrilled to have been selected as one of ten readers at the next Stroud Short Stories night in October. Living  in what sometimes seems like a distant suburb of Bristol, it’s great to  remember we’re actually South Gloucestershire – an area encompassing places as diverse as Kingswood and Kingswood (work that one out if you can) where the brave new world of Yate Shopping Centre rubs shoulders with the cosier confines of Chipping Sodbury. And of course our northern neighbours are in Gloucestershire itself, so it’s great to be meeting up with members of that writing community. I’m not so much pleased to be amongst their ‘best writers’ as totally over the moon. Nearer the time I’ll be brushing up on my performance skills – all tips appreciated!

And finally! You can catch me closer to home at the second South Glos Discover workshop in Bradley Stoke on October 25th.

Full circle: or Mary Berry, Nathan Filer – and me

Education – I have spent most of my life involved in it in some way, but after a six-year stint (including on-the-job training) to become a qualified graduate librarian (that was then, they do things a bit more quickly now) and a double dose of parenting, I didn’t anticipate being a consumer in the system, well not the mainstream system anyway.

So what changed? Well to echo many a song lyric, I’ve always thought life was for learning, and since giving up voluntary work (lots to learn there!) I’ve been aware of a big gap that just sitting here writing didn’t seem to fill, however much it was my raison d’etre.  Adding a handful of new interests – singing – dancing – calligraphy – was fun but still not quite doing it for me.  The trouble was there didn’t seem to be anything I really wanted, or needed,  to learn.

Corsham Court
Corsham Court – not just any campus

It was only after talking to a Bath Spa Creative Writing graduate – and then listening to a talk by another, that I realised the answer might be staring me in the face. So after a hurried application, a few phone calls and an interview in the disconcertingly magnificent Corsham Court (not to worry, uni wing a bit more ordinary!)  here I am off to start my educational life all over again.

Yes, I shall finally answer the question of whether or not creative writing can be taught by trying it out for myself. In fact I always thought it was the wrong question, i.e. not about teaching but about learning. Everyone who wants to write has to learn and we all do it in different ways at different times, sometimes by ourselves but in my case mostly with the help of other people, sometimes by soaking up someone else’s work, sometimes by simply being told what works and what doesn’t.  Horses for courses and sometimes these courses change. A year ago if you had asked me if I wanted a creative writing degree, I would have said ‘why’? Now my answer would be ‘why not?’

Of course I have all kinds of qualms. Not least I am fearful for my WIP. Making it a better book is one of my primary aims and I intended to take a break from it for a few months anyway. But now that these few months are going to involve new people, new ideas, perhaps new writing models, will it stand up to the test? I feel my characters shuffling their feet in impatience. Why can’t she just get on with it?! Of course the impatience is actually mine, but I know full well that some proving time is required before I bash on (and bashing on is a crucial part of the degree, especially towards the end.)

Bath Spa graduate Nathan Filer


Which brings me to Mary Berry (on WDYTYA last night) who trained at Bath Spa when it was the Bath School of Home Economics. As for Nathan, we all know what happened to him!

And there are lots more graduates – some good friends among them – who can testify to a good experience at Bath Spa.

All in all, I can expect to be in good company.

So roll on my second (or is it third?) stab at student life.

Bags first at the bar!





Do Authors Dream of Electric Books?


Soon I’ll be looking at my rough first draft and deciding just where to go next with it. Soon I may even be doing something completely different (in which case you will surely hear) but right now I’m in a bit of a limbo, a limbo that’s actually much needed. I need a limbo to get some dull but necessary jobs done – tax forms (tick), bank statements (tick), floor-washing  as well as some nicer jobs that have been neglected – from brushing up some flash fiction (for our Books are My Bag day) to weeding the garden  and picking blackberries (sorry, brambles in my native language).

Authors Electric

Authors Electric

But probably the most useful thing I’ve done is to apply to join the Authors Electric blogging collective  and it’s my great good fortune to have been accepted to the team of 28 (each of whom blogs on one day in the month). I’ve been a fan of team blogs for quite a while and you may remember I was a contributor to Love a Happy Ending  until they changed their modus operandi and of course take my turn at Bristol Women Writers.  Now I’m really thrilled to be with Authors Electric because it’s great company to be in. I often go over there to catch up on posts, and am a fan of several of the writers:  Catherine Czerkawska is on there as is Chris Longmuir and I’m looking forward to getting to know the others.   As well as the obvious advantages (a blog that’s updated daily, but I blog for just one of those days – more exposure, less effort!) the members also share tips and information across social media, so there will be lots to do and learn.

I’ll be posting links to my Author Electric blogs here and in the usual places and will, I hope, keep this blog going too. Meanwhile I hope you’ll visit my new home where I’m already listed on the team for the 22nd of each month.

Looks like my limbo period is  coming to an end already.





A close shave, or how I nearly wrote the wrong book

While writing the WIP (yes, first draft may be finished but much progress still to be made) I’ve been plagued by the question of genre. I really only plumped for the novel form because it’s the one I’m familiar with.  At the same time, I was aware of keeping as closely as I could to ‘the facts’ and simply making up the bits I didn’t know, exploring above all else where and how the story ended. But new facts were popping up all the time. If I included them all and filled all the gaps that could be filled, surely it would be non-fiction?

Galileo's Daughter coverNext question – what is narrative non-fiction exactly? My one role model for this was Dava Sobel whose Longitude and Galileo’s Daughter I enjoyed years ago before I took up writing. But my own copies had disappeared and my memories were hazy – what was the balance of exposition, action, dialogue? How much drama is there in a drama-documentary?  It was probably time to read some more NNF, but I somehow had enough other things to do. One thing I did know, if my book turned into non-fiction, it would begin and end with the artefact that frames a big part of the story, a painting that’s still in existence today.

Then, as I pushed and panted towards the end,  turning from time to time to my favourite sources, I stumbled on a footnote I had somehow missed referring to a non-fiction (but not academic) book that sounded intriguing. With a chapter of my rough draft still to write, I banged in an order and the book arrived a couple of days later. I was transfixed. Yes, it was highly readable (is this what they mean by ‘narrative’?) and covered a big proportion of the material I was using, albeit from a different perspective. It added appreciably to my knowledge. Its main focus was the picture in question. I gobbled  up Mr Hill’s Big Picture in unseemly haste. Here was the book I had almost tried to write.

Today I started some clearing out and found Galileo’s Daughter in my bookcase. It had been there all along. Clearly fate had intervened – or did I just not want to find it? I don’t think I’ll be needing it now. But Mr Hill’s Big Picture has been useful in all sorts of ways. The author has been really helpful and shared some of his knowledge of the picture (no longer on public display) with me. Most of all, I know I was right to stick to fiction.




Thoughts on historical and literary fiction: blogging with Jane Davis

Is blogging on the decline? My own target of weekly posts (which I maintained for three years!) has long since gone to the wall and there are very few blogs I return to on a regular basis. I also notice that more and more authors use Facebook or other social media to make useful and informative posts alongside the more ephemeral (!)chit-chat.

I Stopped TimeSomeone who comes into this category is author-publisher Jane Davis whose FB posts are always worth a look and whose  I Stopped Time  – a prize-winning novel touching on the history of photography – I really enjoyed. But I then discovered that as well as an upbeat social media presence, Jane  has a blog with some extremely interesting and thought-provoking interviews with a wide variety of authors.



I’m delighted to say that as of today I have joined their ranks and you can read the interview here. It has some ruminations on historical and literary fiction as well as a plea for the categorisation of fiction. Do take a look and also at Jane’s previous interviewees all of whom have something interesting to say.

Thanks Jane, for the opportunity.


Jane in the ultimate tee-shirt